Between Religion and Rationality

Between Religion and Rationality: Essays in Russian Literature and Culture

Joseph Frank
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 312
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s5bm
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    Between Religion and Rationality
    Book Description:

    In this book, acclaimed Dostoevsky biographer Joseph Frank explores some of the most important aspects of nineteenth and twentieth century Russian culture, literature, and history. Delving into the distinctions of the Russian novel as well as the conflicts between the religious peasant world and the educated Russian elite,Between Religion and Rationalitydisplays the cogent reflections of one of the most distinguished and versatile critics in the field.

    Frank's essays provide a discriminating look at four of Dostoevsky's most famous novels, discuss the debate between J. M. Coetzee and Mario Vargas Llosa on the issue of Dostoevsky and evil, and confront Dostoevsky's anti-Semitism. The collection also examines such topics as Orlando Figes's sweeping survey of the history of Russian culture, the life of Pushkin, andOblomov'sinfluence on Samuel Beckett. Investigating the omnipresent religious theme that runs throughout Russian culture, even in the antireligious Chekhov, Frank argues that no other major European literature was as much preoccupied as the Russian with the tensions between religion and rationality.Between Religion and Rationalityhighlights this unique quality of Russian literature and culture, offering insights for general readers and experts alike.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3653-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)

    The present volume is composed of essays and reviews largely written over the years when I was working on the five volumes I devoted to studying Dostoevsky and his times. Such incidental pieces were of course conditioned by my concern with that key figure in Russian literature, but it is impossible to write about Dostoevsky without dealing with many others as well, and especially his great rival Tolstoy. Moreover, since my aim was to approach Dostoevsky not primarily as a biographical personality but as a writer whose work in effect provided “a condensed history of 19th century Russian culture”¹ (seen...

  4. PART I. CLASSICS
    • ONE POOR FOLK AND HOUSE OF THE DEAD
      (pp. 9-28)

      If one were asked to select two books of Dostoevsky that represented the variety and range of his literary talent, no better choice could be made thanThe House of the DeadandPoor Folk. Dostoevsky is best known for his larger and later novels such asCrime and Punishment,Demons, andThe Brothers Karamazov, while an influential critical tradition views him primarily as the unsurpassed chronicler of the moralpsychological dilemmas of the alienated, refractory urban intelligentsia. Once he became more widely known outside of Russia, this latter aspect of his work has had the greatest influence on later writers;...

    • TWO THE IDIOT
      (pp. 29-45)

      Dostoevsky’s great novelThe Idiot,one of the finest works ever written inspired by the image and the ideal of Christ, was composed during a particularly difficult period of his life. To be sure, some other periods of his existence had been equally tumultuous and agitated. There was his arrest as a political conspirator in 1849; the agonizing mock execution to which he had then been exposed; his four years in the prison camp, and the succeeding six of service in the Russian Army. But while such events were nerve-racking and tormenting, he was not, at the same time, attempting...

    • THREE DEMONS
      (pp. 46-63)

      Dostoevsky’sDemons(Besi), sometimes also translated asThe DevilsorThe Possessed, is probably the greatest novel ever inspired by a revolutionary conspiracy; but it was not the book that its author had intended to write. The story of how it came into being in its present form is rather a complicated one, involving Dostoevsky’s own literary ambitions, the fact that he was living abroad, and the appearance in the Russian and German newspapers, which he read assiduously every day, of stories about an atrocious crime committed in his homeland by a small cell of revolutionaries.

      At the time this...

    • FOUR WAR AND PEACE
      (pp. 64-84)

      It is something of a surprise to realize that Tolstoy’s great novelWar and Peace, which has now become so much a part of the literary heritage of Western culture, was initially greeted with some bewilderment and perplexity. “Taken as a whole,” wrote one critic, “this1805(a provisional title) offers something strange and undefined.”¹ Such a critical reaction was so widespread that Tolstoy felt compelled to respond to it with an essay, “Some Words about the BookWar and Peace,” written in 1868.

      “What isWar and Peace?” he wrote. “It is not a novel, still less a poem,...

  5. PART II. THE RUSSIAN TRADITION
    • FIVE NATASHA’S DANCE: A CULTURAL HISTORY OF RUSSIA
      (pp. 87-106)

      To call a work designated as a cultural history of Russia “Natasha’s Dance” is unexpected, to say the least. What has such an appellation to do with so weighty a subject—and with a book of over six hundred pages? Why so seemingly frivolous a title for an inquiry which, presumably, will unroll before the reader the rich panoply of Russian cultural creations that have for so long excited the interest and curiosity of Western observers? The answer is that Orlando Figes’s impressive book is not at all conceived along the lines usually expected on reading the phrase “cultural history.”...

    • SIX A LIFE OF PUSHKIN
      (pp. 107-117)

      In his new life of Pushkin, T. J. Binyon leaves the reader in no doubt as to the chief aim of his massive work. He begins with a brief preface, detailing the meteoric rise of the poet’s reputation from the very first public knowledge of his youthful compositions, its temporary decline during the mid-nineteenth century, and its restoration culminating in the dedication of a monument to him in Moscow in June 1880. This occasion was marked by a celebration lasting for several days and by numerous speeches from attending literary celebrities, the most famous being that of Dostoevsky. Boldly asserting...

    • SEVEN OBLOMOV AND GONCHAROV
      (pp. 118-128)

      Anyone with a claim to literacy is familiar with the names of Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Dostoevsky, and at least can cite some of the titles of their most famous works. But Goncharov and his novelOblomov, of which a new and very snappily colloquial and readable translation has just been published—who has ever heard of them? Well, Samuel Beckett for one, who was told to readOblomovby his mistress Peggy Guggenheim and soon signed some of his letters to her with this cognomen. I recall my teacher at the University of Chicago long ago, the renowned classicist David...

    • EIGHT LYDIA GINZBURG, ON PSYCHOLOGICAL PROSE
      (pp. 129-142)

      Lydia iakovlevna ginzburg is not a name widely known outside Russia except to Slavists, but this excellent translation by Judson Rosengrant of perhaps her most important book,On Psychological Prose, should help to introduce her to a larger public. Until a few years before her death in 1990, when she was eighty, one could hardly say that her reputation was widespread even in Russia, except in scholarly circles. There she was highly respected as the author of a series of impressive studies of Russian writers, including Lermontov (1940) and Alexander Herzen (1957), as well as on such broader literary subjects...

    • NINE RICHARD PIPES, RUSSIAN CONSERVATISM AND ITS CRITICS
      (pp. 143-156)

      Richard pipes has had an extremely distinguished career both as an historian specializing in Russian history and culture and as a member for two years of the National Security Council serving under President Reagan. The two books under review here,Russian Conservatism and Its Critics and Vixi: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger, deal with both these aspects of his life, and one helps to illuminate the other. His views on Russian history, particularly as they related to the ex-Soviet Union, attracted the attention of politicians like Senator Henry Jackson, and he was invited to testify before Senate commissions and finally to...

  6. PART III. THE DOSTOEVSKIAN ORBIT
    • TEN DOSTOEVSKY AND ANTI-SEMITISM
      (pp. 159-172)

      Let me begin with something of a confession. My own work on Dostoevsky originally began by my interest in his relation to the radical ideology of his time. It seemed to me to have been neglected, particularly in Western interpretations of his work, perhaps largely through ignorance. The Russian scholarship, though factually of great value, was hampered by ideological limitations. My focus was therefore on his relation to radical ideology, and the question of his anti-Semitism seemed to me a relatively unimportant issue that did not enter significantly into those aspects of his work in which I had the most...

    • ELEVEN IN SEARCH OF DOSTOEVSKY
      (pp. 173-184)

      During his all-too-brief life (he died at the age of fifty-six), Dr. Leonid Tsypkin was indistinguishable from many other middle-class professionals in the Soviet Union. He was born in Minsk of Jewish parents, both of them doctors; part of the family was wiped out in the Stalin terror, part after Minsk fell to the Germans in 1941. His immediate family escaped because a grateful ex-patient made room for them in a truck. The young Leonid himself went on to become a research doctor, a pathologist, a member of the Institute for Poliomyelitis and Viral Encephalitis, the author of a hundred...

    • TWELVE ARKADY KOVNER
      (pp. 185-195)

      Admirers of Dostoevsky both in his time and ours have been disturbed and puzzled by the anti-Semitism that became so virulent in his writings in the 1870s. One of his contemporaries took the trouble to make his objections known in a letter to the famous author and provoked a reply from him in several letters and a notorious essay in theDiary of a Writer. The name of this correspondent is Avraam Uri Kovner, and he is the subject of Harriet Murav’sIdentity Theft, The Jew in Imperial Russia and the Case of Avraam Uri Kovner.¹ If not for his...

    • THIRTEEN J. M. COETZEE, THE MASTER OF PETERSBURG
      (pp. 196-203)

      J. m. coetzee is a subtle and complex writer whose works invariably contain more than appears on their seemingly pellucid surfaces. He made his reputation with novels that focused on the psychological tension created in the white South African psyche by the social and human anomalies of apartheid. But his special gift is to raise this particular conflict, through a certain starkness of treatment and careful choice of detail, into a parable of the master/slave relationship in all colonial circumstances, in all unjust structures of power. In addition to such works, Coetzee also produced a strange little book calledFoe,...

    • FOURTEEN DOSTOEVSKY AND EVIL
      (pp. 204-216)

      In the spring of 2002, a colloquium on the problem of evil, sponsored by the Nexus Foundation, was held at the University of Tilburg in Holland. I was a member of a panel assigned to discuss Dostoevsky, certainly the modern writer who has given the thematic of evil one of its most powerful expressions. Our keynote speaker was the South African novelist J. M. Coetzee, who, however, sprung a surprise on his fellow panelists and the audience by not speaking about Dostoevsky at all. Instead, he read a sketch supposedly written by a fictional personage already familiar from his work,...

  7. PART IV. TWENTIETH-CENTURY ISSUES
    • FIFTEEN ANTON CHEKHOV
      (pp. 219-229)

      Chekhov biographers are a very lucky breed. They do not have to face the problem of spending a good deal of time studying the life of someone whom they may end up by disliking intensely. One famous example is the perhaps now-forgotten book by Lawrence Thompson, who was selected by Robert Frost himself to be his official biographer. After literally living with his subject, the critic found the poet to be very far from admirable; and the work he produced bore clear evidence of this shift of sentiment.

      In my own case, after spending more years than I like to...

    • SIXTEEN THE TRIUMPH OF ABRAM TERTZ
      (pp. 230-248)

      So much change has taken place in the ex-Soviet Union since the breakup of the empire that it is difficult now even to imagine the excitement produced by the arrest, trial, and sentencing of two young writers, Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, in February 1966. Their “crime” had been to smuggle out, and have printed in the West under the pseudonyms Abram Tertz and Nikolay Arzhak, various works of fiction and, in the case of Tertz-Sinyavsky, an essay,On Socialist Realism. Both were sent to work camps, Sinyavsky for seven years (though he was released after six) and Daniel for...

    • SEVENTEEN D. S. MIRSKY
      (pp. 249-260)

      Very few even of well-informed present-day readers will be familiar with the name of Prince Dimitri Svyatopolk-Mirsky; but anyone who took a course in Russian literature either in England or the United States between the mid-1920s and the present probably ran across its shortened, plebeian variant, D. S. Mirsky. Indeed, starting in 1920 and ending in 1932, this name would have been immediately recognized by all perusers of serious literary journals in English, French, Italian, German, and Russian (to be sure, only those published in that language in Europe). Mirsky’s native tongue was Russian, but he possessed a mastery of...

    • EIGHTEEN VLADIMIR NABOKOV: LECTURES ON LITERATURE
      (pp. 261-286)

      Between 1941 and 1948 Vladimir Nabokov taught courses in Russian and European literature at Wellesley College, and from 1948 to 1958 he was a professor of Russian literature at Cornell University. One of his courses at Cornell was devoted to “selected English, Russian, French, and German novels and short stories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.” All works were read in English translation, and the catalog note added that “special attention will be paid to individual genius and questions of structure.”¹ Among the non-Russian novels included in the course wereMadame Bovary,Mansfield Park,Bleak House,The Strange Case of...

  8. INDEX
    (pp. 287-300)